Speaker Carl Heastie on Monday announced that, this week, the New York State Assembly will pass a package of legislation to protect New Yorkers, improve police and community relations, and bring transparency and accountability to the criminal justice system.
“The Assembly majority has fought tirelessly over the years to deliver meaningful and necessary criminal justice reforms for our state. This week we will continue to build on those reforms, answering the calls of people from across New York and the country,” Heastie said. “We have accomplished a lot, from raising the age to reforming speedy trial, discovery and the bail system, but we know our work is not yet finished. We will continue fighting this week and beyond to improve police and community relations, and to create a more fair and equitable system for all people.”
Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes said, “Black people and all people of color are not anti-police, we are anti-bad police. For generations we have been hunted; abused, mentally and physically by bad police – those who are supposed to serve and protect us. It’s time to end the secrecy surrounding police officers’ records; no longer can law enforcement agencies hide behind civil rights law 50-a to shield the public from truly knowing who is behind the badge.”
“For far too long, a shroud of secrecy has sewed distrust between the public and law enforcement in their communities,” said Assembly member Daniel O’Donnell. “Law enforcement officers are government employees and therefore the public has a right to know about disciplinary records and history. This legislation will deliver the transparency and accountability that people deserve.”
“We have taken this moment of loss and mourning, pain and frustration, angst and revolt and channeled our influence and power to transform the policing procedures of New York state,” said Assembly member Tremaine Wright, chair of the Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic & Asian Legislative Caucus. Together in this moment, we are forging a new path so that we can address and correct the policing practices that have allowed abuses to go unchecked for too long.”
“One of my proudest moments of my career in the Assembly was when I cast my vote for Speaker Heastie as the first black speaker in our state’s history,” said Assembly member Ron Kim, co-chair of the Asian Pacific American Task Force. “His bold vision of criminal justice reform has not always been the most popular agenda for my community of Asian Americans. Today, I can proudly say that is no longer the case. This week, every single community group and nonprofit of Asian descent has stood up, protested and marched in full solidarity with the black and brown community. As the co-chair of Asian Pacific American Task Force, it was a very moving moment for me.”
“Suffering a pandemic and suffering a pandemic as a minority is doubly hard,” said Assembly member Maritza Davila, chair of the Puerto Rican/Hispanic Taskforce. “Here, we have no color; here we have laws – laws that can help protect black and brown men and women in New York as they move forward. We are here to change history.”
This week, Heastie said, the Assembly intends to pass legislation that clarifies that a person not under arrest or in custody has a right to record police activity and to maintain custody and control of that recording and any property or instruments used to record police activities (A.1360-A, Perry).
“Today, everyone has a camera in their pockets. And in cases of police abuse of power, recordings have proven time and again to be an invaluable protection. It is a right we have, and this bill will allow us to exercise this right without fear of police interference, intimidation or confiscation of our recording devices,” Assembly member N. Nick Perry said. “This will both protect New Yorkers rights and hold law enforcement accountable for their actions. It is past time that the right to record was codified in state law.”
Another bill would establish a right of action under the Civil Rights Law when a person without sound reason calls 911 or otherwise summons police alleging criminal activity, and such call or request for assistance is motivated by bias based on the race, color, national origin, ancestry, gender, religion, religious practice, disability or sexual orientation of the person reported (A.1531-B, Richardson).
“Calling 911 for non-emergencies prevents emergency responders from helping people who are actually in danger and poses an even bigger threat to people of color in the current political climate,” said Assembly member Diana Richardson. “When officers report to a scene with limited information and that information sounds critical enough, they may respond with tactical force. As we have seen, it takes only a few seconds for a situation to escalate. This legislation sends the message loud and clear that it is not a crime for people of color to exist in public spaces, and it establishes a means of recourse should they encounter such treatment.”
Also to pass this week is the Eric Garner Anti-Chokehold Act, which would prohibit the use of chokeholds by law enforcement and establish the crime of aggravated strangulation, a class C felony (A.6144-B, Mosley).
“Almost six years ago, we heard Eric Garner tell police ‘I can’t breathe’ as he was put into a chokehold by an NYPD officer. His words now speak from the grave as we deal with the police killing of George Floyd under nearly identical circumstances,” Assembly member Walter T. Mosley said. “Hundreds of unarmed black men and women have been killed at the hands of police officers before and between these two tragedies. In 2015, I introduced this bill to outlaw chokeholds statewide, and I am proud to see it taken up today as we pass legislation to reform our criminal justice system. This is an important step forward, but it will not be the last. We must work to change the way that police officers interact with communities of color, or we will continue to see these killings occur.”
Included in the legislative package is the New York State Police body-worn cameras program, which directs the Division of State Police to provide all state police officers with body-worn cameras that are to be used any time an officer is on patrol, and identifies situations when the camera is to be turned on and recording (A.8674A, Walker).
“As one of the largest state police agencies in the country, the New York State Police should be one of the first agencies to set an example, to show others how to properly use body cams to deliver transparency and accountability to the public,” said Assembly member Latrice Walker. “This legislation will help bring to light when excessive force is used, and hopefully ultimately reduce the number of ‘use of force’ incidents and take a critical first step in repairing the trust between law enforcement and the communities they serve.”
The Assembly also aims to pass legislation requiring state and local police and peace officers, whether on or off duty, to report to a supervisor within six hours of the discharge of a service revolver under circumstances where a person could have been struck (A.10608, Perry).
Also set to pass this week is the Police Statistics and Transparency (STAT) Act, which would require courts to compile and publish aggregate racial and other demographic information concerning arrests and court processing of lower-level offenses, including misdemeanors and violations. The bill also requires police departments to submit annual reports on arrest-related deaths to the Division of Criminal Justice Services, the governor and the Legislature (A.10609, Lentol).
“All across the nation, Americans are calling for justice and accountability from our law enforcement agencies,” said Codes Committee Chair Joseph Lentol. “This legislation will provide the public with the transparency they deserve, and allow the Legislature to make informed, evidence-based decisions regarding future policy decisions.”
The Assembly will also repeal section 50-a of the Civil Rights Law that has been interpreted and expanded by the courts to allow police departments to withhold almost anything that would be used to evaluate a police officer. This repeal would subject these records to the Freedom of Information Law (FOIL), just as all other records kept by public agencies, while protecting the sensitive personal contact and health information of these officers (A.10611, O’Donnell.)
Also included in the criminal justice legislative package is a bill that would amend the Civil Rights Law to affirm the right of persons in custody to prompt and reasonable medical and mental health assistance (A.8226B, Fernandez).
“Too many people in police custody have suffered or died because those responsible for them neglected to provide medical attention to injuries or illnesses,” said Assembly member Nathalia Fernandez. “This bill is critical to protecting individuals in police custody and to prevent this needless suffering in the future.”
Assembly member Perry also sponsored legislation to create an office of special investigation within the Office of the New York State Attorney General, which will independently investigate and, if warranted, prosecute incidents involving the death of a person caused by an act or omission of a police or peace officer (A.1601-B, Perry).
Another bill to pass the Assembly this week would establish the law enforcement misconduct investigative office within the department of law, which would investigate complaints, or upon the office’s initiative, concerning allegations of corruption, fraud, use of excessive force, criminal activity, conflicts of interest, or abuse in certain law enforcement agencies. The goal of this legislation is to enhance the effectiveness of law enforcement, increase public safety, protect civil liberties and civil rights, ensure compliance with constitutional protections and local, state and federal laws, and increase the public's confidence in law enforcement (A.10002-B, Taylor).
“Establishing the law enforcement misconduct investigative office will bring increased transparency to law enforcement just as we have brought transparency into other aspects of our society,” said Assembly member Al Taylor. “This legislation is essential to hold law enforcement agencies accountable for their operations and activities.”
Included in the legislative package is a bill that would prohibit law enforcement officers and agencies from profiling based on race or ethnicity, establish a statewide public database containing data on motor vehicle and pedestrian stops by police, and allow any victim of racial or ethnic profiling, or the attorney general, to bring an action for damages or injunctive relief to stop improper profiling (A.4615, Bichotte).
“My bill will ban racial profiling by requiring police officers across the state to collect data on every stop they conduct, and provide a legal right to judgement for victims of racial profiling,” said Assembly member Rodneyse Bichotte. “Unfortunately, the Senate believes it is too much of a burden to collect data and has introduced a watered-down bill that takes away these civilian protections. They are throwing a bone to the victims of racial profiling – George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Eric Garner – and the many, many others whose names are cried out by people across the state; but I will fight for this legislation and I will not accept watered-down justice.”
On Monday morning, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said, “People are saying enough is enough, and it is enough. It is enough. It's been the same point over and over and over again. Bring reforms to the criminal justice system. Bring reforms to policing. We've seen the same situation happen 20, 30, 40 times. How many times do you have to see the same situation before you act?”
He added, “We worked with the legislature over the weekend. I think we have an agreement on the bills that are going to be introduced. If they pass the bills that we discussed, I will sign the bills and I will sign them as soon as they're passed. I want to thank both of them for their leadership.”